Freelance writing is a fantastic opportunity for those who want the freedom to create their own schedule, work from home, travel more often or expand their careers in journalism, literature, and other writing-related industries. Of course, it’s also a fantastic way to earn money by writing online—during these trying economic times it can help fill gaps between other income sources.
You’re probably full of questions though—like, “do I need any experience to become a freelance writer?” and “do I need to take a freelance writing course?” I’ll answer both of those questions and many more in this concise, yet thorough guide on how to become a freelance writer.
I’ll cover what a freelance writer is, what type of content they create, and of course, I’ll tell you how to become a freelance writer including:
- Developing discipline and experience
- Selecting a niche
- Pricing your work
- Building and launching your website
- Pitching, bidding, networking, and how to move your career forward in record time!
So, without further ado, let’s learn about how to start freelance writing!
What is a Freelance Writer?
What is a freelance writer? Let’s break it down. As a freelancer, you are the boss. That is, instead of having a full—or part-time position at a company, having managers and supervisors, etc. above you, you work solo, taking the clients you want, working the hours you want, and charging the prices you want. You’re a free agent, with that “free” standing for freedom.
A writer, of course, is someone that writes—but writes what? We’ll get to that in more detail, but for our discussion, we’re talking mostly about website content.
The internet is an ever-expanding universe of information and entertainment, and the vast majority of that content is either written or includes written material to supplement it. Naturally, this means that there are lots of opportunities for writers out there.
Furthermore, with so many varied interests and independent companies and publishers, there are more opportunities than ever for freelance writers specifically. Even larger companies and organizations want to provide multiple viewpoints and perspectives and provide fresh content from new writers all the time. This provides exponentially increasing opportunities for freelance writers.
Of course, there is so much content on the internet, of so many varied types, that you’re probably wondering what sort of content freelancers usually contribute. Well, you’re in luck, because that’s what the next section of this guide is all about!
What Type of Content do Freelance Writers Create?
When we talk about “type” of content, we’re really talking about two different things, and how they intersect. There’s subject matter, and then there’s the purpose of the content.
But what exactly does that mean?
Just about any subject you can find online has opportunities for freelance writers, which means that freelance writers honestly do have infinite choices for what they want to write about.
Of course, this comes with caveats—there are more lucrative markets for specific topics, and there is more demand for some topics. Obviously specializing in something where these two things overlap is a big plus, but it’s entirely possible to make a fantastic living as a freelance writer by writing what you love.
We’ll get into that more when we talk about niches below. Just know that there’s really no limit on subject matter and that different approaches may work better depending on your specialty.
For those who haven’t paid a great deal of attention to the purpose of different types of online content, this is an important distinction that you’ll want to understand.
When you’re browsing a website, think about what the purpose of the content is. Is it informational? Is it entertainment? Is it selling something?
Think about how you’d describe its purpose. Is it:
- A product description?
- A blog?
- Landing or sales pages?
- A review?
- A technical guide?
- A news article?
- Fiction for entertainment?
…and so forth. Each type of content purpose is also an opportunity for freelance writers. Of course, certain contexts aren’t usually profitable—someone’s own personal blog that they write themselves usually isn’t looking to add articles from a freelancer—but there are plenty of opportunities to write blog posts.
Perhaps you won’t be able to whip up a recipe for Martha Stewart Living, but there are lots of opportunities for freelance writers to write recipes. Not all news sites accept freelance articles, but many do, and so on.
With a little bit of research, you can identify where those opportunities lie and what the potential is.
How to Become a Freelance Writer
Becoming a freelance writer takes dedication and a willingness to develop your writing skills—and that’s about it!
There are, of course, helpful guides and courses such as 30 Days or Less to Freelance Writing Success that can help you jump-start the process, but beyond that, your primary focus is building a website, having the discipline to write regularly and being willing to market yourself or at the very least network.
Develop Self-Discipline and a Routine
That’s a point I’d like to touch on before we go further. One of the more challenging aspects of being a freelance writer has little to do with the logistics, equipment or the necessary experience. It’s simply building a routine that allows you to work productively for yourself and promote your business.
Many people have little to no experience in working for themselves. When you’re used to being “managed,” clocking in, and having someone else to be accountable to who is more than a name on a screen, it can sometimes be difficult to adjust to being your own boss.
The best advice I have on that front is to mimic the routines you’re already used to until you can get into a good rhythm that suits your freelancing style.
Working from home comes with definite perks, like working in your PJs, setting your own schedule, etc. But without discipline, it’s a recipe for failure.
When you start, you may want to plan out a schedule similar to a traditional workday. Have a set idea of when you want to “clock in” and make sure you’re at your desk at that time. Take an hour for lunch—no more. And yes, you might want to wait until you’re secure in your routine before you forgo wearing pants to “work.”
Developing a routine that works for you will take time. It’s something I’ve been working on for years and continue to refine. You should also remember to be patient. Sometimes, life gets in the way of our schedules no matter how much planning we’ve done.
Develop Your Portfolio and Experience
Another thing that I’m often asked is whether you need experience, a formal educational background, or specialized courses to become a freelance writer. While these things can help, the answer is no; they aren’t needed. However, this comes with a few caveats.
While experience in the traditional sense isn’t strictly necessary, having a portfolio nearly always is. Companies and individual clients want to review your writing before they hire you, and that makes total sense, so building a portfolio is essential.
You can create a portfolio of unpublished material, one of published material, or a combination of both. Personally, I’m a fan of creating an online portfolio — specifically on your website. If you’re going to be working online, it makes sense that you demonstrate some proficiency in actually doing so.
I have found that having some published material online is ideal when soliciting for paying clients. Here are a few tips for doing just that:
Publish on Your Own Blog
One thing you can do is publish your own blog. If you’re targeting a specific niche, it will definitely be beneficial to have some content surrounding that topic.
Publish Articles on Other Websites for Free
Another and a potentially more helpful option is to write for a reputable website for free.
For example, some well-known outlets like the Huffington Post publish opinion and informational pieces from freelance writers. While there’s no pay as such, it’s something to add to your portfolio that gives your clients the peace of mind knowing that a reputable organization has already published some of your work.
As a general rule, I’m not someone who promotes working for “free”. I think it a really bad habit to get into.
However, don’t confuse “working for free” with marketing your business. If you were in a more traditional business you might not think twice about walking around handing out brochures to promote yourself. And you wouldn’t be paid to do this.
You can spend your time or you can spend your money. Consider the process of creating free content as a marketing expense.
Select a Niche
When you’re putting together your portfolio, deciding on your rates, and creating your website, it’s important to have some idea of what niche or niches you want to pursue when freelancing. That’s because the niche or niches you choose will affect all these things.
For example, your portfolio should reflect your depth of interest and skill in writing about that niche. Your pricing will need to be competitive with other freelancers that specialize in that niche, after all. You’ll want to look at websites reflecting that niche and keep trends and aesthetics you see in mind when designing your own.
We always suggest choosing a niche you’re passionate about, doing a fair amount of research on the above topics, and checking freelancing sites to see if there seems to be a good amount of demand. Once you’re done with this post, I wrote a more detailed article on finding and assessing your ideal freelance writing niche.
It can also help to check the saturation of the topic. Some niches are far more popular than others, and the more writers in the field, the steeper the competition. An under-saturated niche can result in more clients too, especially if you have the expertise to write in a specialized niche.
One more thing—you don’t have to pick one niche. While some content purposes demand in-depth knowledge of a subject, others, like SEO writing, require only a bit of research per article but do require different skills.
SEO stands for search engine optimization. Many companies and organizations want to appear at the top of search engine results when terms relevant to their industry are searched. To do so, they need to publish lots of fresh, relevant content—and that means this is a deep well of opportunity for freelance writers.
If you’re interested in SEO writing, it’s a good idea to research what it entails, which includes things like specialized formatting and keyword placement as preferred by search engine algorithms.
Decide on Pricing & Invoicing
So, how do you decide how much your work is worth? You’ll find that prices for freelance writing can vary a great deal. There are a few things you should be researching to decide how to set your prices.
Perhaps the most useful thing you can do is check out other freelance sites within your chosen niche and see what rates they’re charging. I do recommend starting on the low end, when you have a weaker portfolio, and raising your prices as you build a stronger portfolio and have more client recommendations to back up the quality of your work.
Also, keep in mind that you can price differently for different types of projects. You may want to charge more, for example, for projects that require extra research, and less for projects that require less preparation. Also, you may want to offer clients that have bulk or frequent work a special discount.
It’s totally fine to have published rates but I’m also a fan of saying “rates start at…”. That way you negotiate individually with your clients to set a price that’s both fair and competitive for each project you take on.
Finally, you might be wondering how freelance writers get paid. If you’re writing for a large network of sites, they may have their own payment preferences, but in general, you should have a variety of online payment methods prepared—two is ideal.
Paypal, Payoneer, and even Venmo are popular choices. Making it as convenient as possible for your clients to pay—which other freelance writers will do— is always a good competitive move.
Create Your Website
It’s important to have a website to direct your clients to. There are a few reasons for this. First, having a site will get more and more clients as time goes on. Second, when you approach clients, it’s important to have a professional, accessible web presence.
Personally, I a huge proponent of a self-hosted WordPress site. Nothing screams “no experience” like a free Weebly site plastered with ads.
Finally, your website will be able to provide your clients with comprehensive information about the services you offer, and you won’t have to spend as much time answering repetitive questions. The more you can pre-qualify your clients, the easier your life will be.
Begin Pitching and Networking
One of the best ways to get started is to check out freelancing sites like Upwork, which will allow you to bid on jobs posted by clients. The goal, of course, is to become a powerhouse in your own right—but once you begin getting clients, you’ll find that they make recommendations for you and you’ll also start to meet other freelancers.
When I started freelance writing back in 2015, the first few clients were difficult to land. But as I began to establish myself within my chosen niche (which was WordPress and technology), I started receiving inquiries on a regular basis. I also landed a huge number of clients from networking — a business building skill the importance of which I simply cannot over-emphasize.
Pitching and networking are both crucial at this stage. They are, of course, important as you progress as well, but starting strong is vital. The sooner you have a network of reliable clients that trust you, the faster your income will grow and the more profitable the projects you’ll be able to take on.
Your Next Steps
So, are you ready to get started? The best time to start freelance writing was a year ago, and the second-best time is right now!
If you’re confident about the path you’d like to take all I can suggest is that you start by taking action. If you’re someone who prefers a more guided and proven approach, I’d recommend that you take a closer looks at 30 Days or Less to Freelance Writing Success.
I strongly believe that it’s an amazingly viable career path which takes little initial investment aside from dedication, time, and most importantly desire. Seriously, how many businesses can you start for under $500 where there is potential to earn 6-figures?